Jason Vines, the former head of public relations at Chrysler, Ford and Nissan, has seen a lot during his more than 30-year career, and now he's offering a behind-the-scenes look at the auto industry in his tell-all book What Did Jesus Drive? that went on sale this month.
"It's about some of the biggest crises in history. It's about who did it right and who did it wrong." – Jason Vines
Vines oversaw communications at all three automakers during major crises, including recalls and bankruptcy. His book reveals how they handled – or fumbled – those situations, often with life-or-death consequences.
"It's about some of the biggest crises in history," Vines said. "It's about who did it right and who did it wrong."
Speaking at an Automotive Press Association event Monday in Detroit to promote the book, Vines had high praise for his former boss, ex-Ford CEO Jacques Nasser, who was in charge at the Blue Oval during the massive Explorer/Firestone-rollover crisis.
"People are alive today because of Jacques Nasser's actions," he said.
Though an estimated 271 people were killed in the Explorer rollovers and Ford spent billions replacing the tires, the Blue Oval was able to rehabilitate its reputation, which Vines credited to its open handling of the recalls.
Vines, who has served as an advisor to General Motors during its ignition-switch recall crisis, had harsher words for that automaker, and said the situation could end up being worse than the Explorer firestorm. He argued GM wasn't as open as Ford nearly a decade earlier. While he praised CEO Mary Barra's performance under fire, he said GM botched its hearings on Capitol Hill earlier this year, a point he underscored in the final chapter of the book.
"If you're the opening skit on Saturday Night Live – that's not a good thing," he said in reference to the iconic show's parody of Barra's testimony.
He also said GM is "not out of the woods yet," though it's made progress in fixing the ignition switches.
"I think someone is going to go to jail for this." Vines said. "I think this is going to cost them billions."
"I think someone is going to go to jail for this. I think this is going to cost them billions." – Vines
He also had rough words for former Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli, who was in charge of the automaker when it went bankrupt, calling him "tone-deaf and not a good person."
Vines, who spent most of his career working for automakers and is a director emeritus of the Automotive Hall of Fame, claimed Nardelli didn't understand car culture.
"He told me in a private meeting the problem with this town [Detroit] is it has a car cancer," Vines recounted.
Vines also said Nardelli feuded with former Chrysler executive Jim Press, who joined the company after a successful career with Toyota.
Vines said he went "all-in" for his book and even claimed his office was bugged during his time at Ford. When asked if he was concerned he'd work in the auto industry again, Vines replied: "I didn't really take that into consideration."